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Feminine Power in the History of American Jewish Museums

Thursday, September 24
4 – 5 p.m.

Established in 1947, the Jewish Museum on 5th Avenue in the former home of Felix Warburg and Frieda Schiff Warburg is America’s most widely known symbol of Jewish art history. But what most don’t think about is that it is also a symbol of what the University of Virginia’s Ariel Cohen calls Jewish “feminine power.” What makes Jewish art history in America “feminine?” What is “feminine power?”

In her research on American Jewish museums, Cohen expected to find archives full of stories of the men who founded Jewish museums — Cyrus Adler, first curator of Judaica at the Smithsonian in DC; Alexander Marx, chief librarian of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and visionary of its Museum of Ceremonial Objects; and others. What she found instead were the stories of four American Jewish women who made Jewish public culture a “thing.” From a Russian immigrant secretary and a rebbetzin to a public philanthropist and an artist and curator’s wife, these women are connected by a shared drive: to offer Jews connections to their roots and ancestry, and to self- describe Jews in galleries for a wide audience. The spaces they built would offer Jews deeper connections to their roots and strengthen their Jewish identities.

This talk will discuss the women who changed the landscape of American Jewish culture indelibly. It will present a body of evidence pointing to “feminine power” in American Jewish history as found in American Jewish art museums.

Co-presented with the New York Public Library and the Jewish Museum, the discussion also will feature Susan Chevlowe, Ph.D., director and chief curator of Derfner Judaica and The Art Collection at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. She is a former curator at the Jewish Museum.

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This event is open to alumni, faculty/staff, parents, students, and the public.